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Scott Simpson (Ward 1): If it were up to me, we would have channeled all of the rancor over school quality into a useful discussion on how to better educate students, instead of how we draw the lines. But the administration’s process for reviewing the boundaries exhibited extraordinarily high levels of community engagement, and the results show for Ward One.
There are a lot of very good things in the boundary review proposal for Ward One. The boundaries for Bancroft and Oyster-Adams now include more of our students. There will be two newly built middle schools, including a dual language middle school that Ward One students will attend. And we preserve our feeder patterns into prestigious Deal Middle School and Wilson High School.
We should accept the results and move on to a discussion of improving educational opportunities at every school.
MW: The District has been criticized for relying heavily on high-stakes testing to determine proficiency in various subjects. Do you see this criticism as valid or legitimate?
Simpson: The high-stakes testing we use here in the District of Columbia is often a more reliable gauge of income than school or teacher quality. These tests don’t capture the most important indicators of success for low-income students, students with disabilities, and immigrant students: student growth and learning rates. Instead, they capture snapshots of student populations that can be radically different from school to school, year to year.
If we started to emphasize longitudinal student learning data (how specific students are faring in particular subjects over time), we can create a powerful tool for teachers, schools, and parents, to help increase achievement at high rates that are appropriate for each student.
MW: What do you think needs to be further done to reduce truancy and increase D.C.’s low high school graduation rate?
Simpson: We need to make reducing truancy a major priority. We can do that by taking proven, straightforward measures to increase attendance, like ensuring that when a student doesn’t show up, a school official calls the student and the parents. This straightforward response to absenteeism is still not commonplace, partly because we don’t have enough social workers and truancy officers to do the work. Second, we must reform the overuse of suspensions that creates a culture of absenteeism.
The third, and most important, measure we can take to increase graduation rates is to make schools centers for social services. Students want to graduate and thrive, but too many don’t have the reliable access to food, shelter, childcare, health services, and income that make coming to school every day possible.
MW: What can the DC State Board of Education do, if anything, to enforce anti-bullying laws related to LGBT students and families and reduce truancy among that specific sub-group?
Simpson: There is no dedicated funding for anti-bullying efforts and serving as an LGBT liaison within a school is an unpaid, voluntary position that staff must take on in addition to their regular duties. We need school employees who are dedicated full-time to this calling.
While there is a culture of acceptance amongst DC schools leadership, there is not a commitment to eradicating disparities for LGBT youth. This is a sad state for a city where we should be leaders in narrowing disparities for LGBT youth, as well as immigrant youth, students with disabilities and students of color. We can do better.
MW: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
Simpson: The LGBT community is my home and heart. I’ve been rooted in D.C.’s LGBT community for my entire adult life. Being LGBT and in elected office comes with a special responsibility to be a thoughtful and capable representative of our entire community. I’ve volunteered thousands of hours at SMYAL as an AmeriCorps volunteer, mentoring and advocating for LGBT youth, and I’ve carried that experience with me throughout my career as a civil rights advocate. The LGBT community wants to eradicate the deep-rooted educational disparities in our city, and we need a seasoned and capable member of the State Board of Education as a change agent.
For more information on Scott Simpson’s campaign, visit simpsonforschools.org.
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